Column: Controversy and the Beast

Disney movie a huge hit despite controversy



[Minor spoilers for Beauty and the Beast below]

The Walt Disney Company is no stranger to controversy. Ever since their earliest animated classics, Disney has been plagued by angry sects of people calling them out on unsavory factors in their films. In the past, these controversies were primarily racial stereotypes, including the crows of “Dumbo,” the Native Americans in “Peter Pan” and “Pocahontas,” and the Arabic people featured in “Aladdin.”

Disney has also taken flak for their potentially anti-feminist depictions of women in many of their films, with many modern-day feminists challenging the desirability of the princess stereotype. Their more recent films, particularly movies such as “Brave” and “Zootopia,” have largely sought to turn this narrative around by presenting more socially progressive ideas, like fighting racial and gender stereotypes.

Now, two years after the landmark Supreme Court case that made gay marriage legal across the U.S. and after decades of a national push for LGBTQ rights, Disney faces a brand new controversy: pushback against their first openly gay character.


Disney’s new film, a live-action remake of the classic “Beauty and the Beast,” premieres this month. To the surprise of many people, the production crew of the film, including Director Bill Condon, chose to make a supporting character—Josh Gad’s “LeFou”—openly homosexual.

While this decision may not be a big deal to many, pushback has been significant. Although this particular feature of the story was revealed to be limited to a single moment in the film where LeFou demonstrates attraction to another male character, a locally owned drive-in movie theater in rural Alabama has already decided they will not show the film. A spokesman stated that they would not “compromise on what the Bible teaches” and compared seeing an openly homosexual character to seeing “sex, nudity… and foul language” in movies.

The most significant pushback against the film, however, was the response from Russia. Russia has an incredibly negative record on LGBTQ rights—especially in recent years, when they implemented a long-term and widespread ban on gay pride parades. A Russian government official, upon becoming aware of the film’s choice to make LeFou gay, sought to ban the film from his country entirely. Although the official did not succeed, the film received the Russian equivalent of an “R” rating over the gay character, effectively banning children from seeing this remake of a family classic.

Although this particular controversy may seem unimportant, it comes at a time when many people are pushing for the U.S. to return to a more socially conservative state. Protesting a gay character in a film is, at its basic level, not so different from refusing to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding or refusing to issue a marriage license for a gay couple.


Of course, the ramifications of disrupting someone’s wedding are much greater than boycotting a major motion picture, but the concept is the same: many people refuse to accept the normalization of LGBTQ people and culture into American society. Actor Josh Gad told People Magazine that “there is so much fear out there of that which we don’t understand, that which we don’t know.”

Regardless of pushback, the film’s box office numbers was not affected. It received average early reviews from audiences and critics alike—a 6.1/10 audience score and 66 percent critic score on and a decent score of 73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Plus, Disney movies have a history of being immune to such socially conservative resistance in recent years. “Beauty and the Beast” premiered March 16 in major cinemas across the country.